ANNAPOLIS – School construction officials criticized a draft proposal from a government restructuring commission that suggested merging public school construction under the Maryland Stadium Authority.
The draft proposal, released Nov. 10 by the Governor’s Commission on the Structure and Efficiency of State Government, said the merger would help local districts with costs and streamline school construction projects.
Lloyd Robertson, Calvert County’s assistant to the superintendent of public school construction, said he saw three things wrong when he read it.
“The first thing is it’s obvious the Mandel Commission did not talk to anyone at the local level regarding school construction . . . second, this would remove any type of local autonomy from that process . . . and third the cost savings, where are they?” Robertson said.
Robertson said Calvert County has the fastest growing percentage of students in the state, and if the merger took dollars away from that, it would be detrimental.
“The Stadium Authority may be successful in building (Baltimore Orioles Park at) Camden Yards . . . do they have the same expertise to build public schools?” Robertson said.
Calvert County is building a $35 million high school, conducting a $12 million expansion of a career center and working on plans for another elementary school, he said.
“We’re building an elementary school a year,” Robertson said. “We have a little over 17,000 students in our system and we’re projecting another 500 next year.”
The proposal was one of the recommendations made by the commission, chaired by former Gov. Marvin Mandel, that was appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in August to examine Maryland’s 50-some independent state agencies. The commission will finalize its recommendations Dec. 2, before sending them to Ehrlich.
The commission said benefits from the merger would include consolidation of staff positions, statewide coordination of all public school construction processes and making construction budgets stretch farther.
Commission members said the merger is a good idea because of the current record of the Stadium Authority.
“We think the record of the Stadium Authority has been very good,” Lawrence Hogan, Sr., a commission member, said. “Most people are very impressed with the way in which they have performed. They do it on time, on budget, which is very good.”
Joe Lavorgna, Montgomery County’s director of planning and capital programming, doesn’t see the proposal happening and said the recommendations are vague.
“We get about 25 cents on a dollar building schools,” Lavorgna said before reading the proposal. “If they’re going to give us 100 cents on the dollar, I’d say, ‘I’ve died and gone to heaven.'”
And after reading the proposal, Lavorgna said he was left with questions.
“(The proposal) doesn’t say anything about how the funding works and is the Stadium Authority just reviewing the construction documents or actually constructing the buildings?” Lavorgna said. “It’s unclear how this merger would work.”
Richard Slosson, Stadium Authority executive director, said while he doesn’t know how school construction works, they “would bring some efficiency to it.”
The Stadium Authority is responsible for building and owning such sports stadiums as Camden Yards, the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland College Park, and the Ravens Stadium in Baltimore. Under commission recommendations, the Stadium Authority’s name would be changed to the Maryland Construction Management Authority.
For many, funding under the merger is a concern.
Commission member Hogan said funding wasn’t thought about when coming up with the recommendation and added the process the school systems use will remain.
“The state’s money will go farther,” Hogan said. “There’s a shortage of money in building schools. We think this proposal will help the state’s investments in local education go further, by making it more efficient.”
At a public hearing Nov. 13, David Lever, Interagency Committee on Public School Construction executive director, told the commission it also doesn’t support the proposed merger.
Maryland State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard said State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, who is also on the public school construction board, stands behind Lever in his decisions about the proposal.
“(The Stadium Authority) actually builds and it’s not exactly clear what kind of new role the agency will have,” Lever said in a later interview. “The other issue . . . is whether this management authority would actually build schools or would it simply bring the expertise to the school districts, and I do support that.”
Lever also said he doesn’t believe as much money will be saved as thought. “You do save some money,” he said. “But not nearly as much as anticipated . . . you want to save every penny you can, but not at the expense of educational programs.”